And he and his family learn lessons of patience, gratitude and community through his ordeal.


Michael Bliss is grateful.

He’s grateful the feeling in his fingers is coming back. He’s grateful he’s home. He’s grateful he’s loved and cared for by people he’s never even met. He’s grateful he can wiggle his feet, a little bit more each day.

The seemingly small things everyone else takes for granted aren’t lost on Mike. That’s the nickname he goes by — except when his parents use his full name to keep him motivated during his physical therapy. Michael and Cheryl Bliss are watching their son relearn the skills he mastered as a toddler: walking, using his hands, moving his arms.

Mike was just 21 when he was beaten by three men in what police called a random, brutal assault in Buffalo last March. Back then, the focus was on whether he’d live.

He did. And now, the focus is on getting him to walk.

Mike is considered a quadriplegic. He’s in a wheelchair, but spends a lot of time out of it, trying to rebuild his strength. He works at it every day, almost all day, at home and at rehab centers. Therapy, he said, is never ending.

His family room, which has been turned into a therapy room now, houses weights, a table on which to do stretches and an exercise ball. It houses a plaque, too. “I believe in miracles,” it reads.

It’s a belief the whole family shares: mom Cheryl, dad Michael, brother Matthew, 19, and sister Kelsey, 8.

“We keep hoping, because little things keep coming back and we work very hard,” Cheryl said. “We work hard with him. We’re not going to give up.”

Their journey began on March 22, when their son was walking home from watching a Buffalo Sabres game at a bar. Mike, who graduated from Greece Arcadia in 2005, was an accounting major at the University of Buffalo. The family can’t talk about the case, but three men have been charged.

Mike remembers waking up in a Buffalo hospital and trying to rip out his respirator tube. He didn’t like it, he said. For the first week, he was out of it. His family was by his side.
“It was really scary, because there were a few times where I thought we might lose him,” Cheryl said.

Nothing mattered more than getting through the day.

“I wasn’t really thinking about if he would walk again. I was thinking about if he would live,” she said.

Doctors didn’t tell Mike too much, he said. He’s glad they didn’t. Slowly, he started to recover. He’s been home for three months. In between, he’s spent time at various rehab centers, including a recent stay in San Diego. The family is going to another clinic in Baltimore soon for a trial program.

“We have to (go),” Cheryl said. “We don’t want to ever look back and say we didn’t do enough.”

She and her husband take care of Mike during the day. His grandmothers take care of the night shift. A trio of women, called the “faunts” — short for “fake aunts” — help, too. Cousins, and aunts and uncles, and grandpa, and friends and their parents and grandparents pitch in as well.

“It’s not just a matter of ‘Michael can’t walk,’” Cheryl said. He needs to be turned at night. It takes awhile to get him ready for the day, let alone to leave the house. He has a catheter. He needs help getting dressed.

“There’s no dignity in this injury,” Cheryl said.

Besides the physical help, emotional support is just as vital, she said. The family welcomes visitors and calls and cards.

Mike even met Kevin Everett, the former Buffalo Bills player who was temporarily paralyzed after suffering an injury during a game last season. A replica of a check he gave for Mike’s recovery hangs above the family’s fireplace.

Everett was an inspiration, Mike said. So is the man who sold the family his van equipped for a wheelchair. He hasn’t recovered from paralysis, but he has gone on to live a good life, Cheryl said.

But Mike, who said he’s always been a determined kind of guy, wants more. The progress he’s made in the five months since being attacked, he said, keeps him going.

“It keeps me optimistic in hopes of getting out of my wheelchair,” he said. “It’s going to take awhile, but it’s still what I’m shooting for.”

Does he think it will happen?

“Yeah,” he said, after a pause. “Yeah, I do.”

Mike and his parents approach therapy like a routine. When it’s time, Mike uses his arms to push up from his wheelchair. His mom boosts him onto the table. He starts, she finishes.

She hands him his wrist weights. She helps put on first one, then the other. It’s backwards, Mike tells her patiently. She moves it around. He lifts his arms steadily, breathing in and out slowly, concentrating on every move.

His mom uncrosses his ankles and tugs off his slippers. If he’s in one position for awhile, his body gets used to it, she said. Then, his dad comes in. He bends down and puts clean, white sneakers on his son’s feet while Mike watches. They look brand new.

In the last week alone, Mike’s hands have regained some strength, Cheryl said. He’s going to take an online college course. Mike doesn’t know what he wants to do, but he plans to go back to college. The computer use will help his rehab, mom said.

The family is slowly getting back to normal, she said. The siblings squabble again. Mike and his parents argue sometimes. The eggshells, for the most part, are gone.

“It’s sad when he gets sad, but in a way I’m glad to see him release it,” she said.

But it doesn’t happen often.

“His attitude keeps us going,” Cheryl said.

Sometimes, Mike said, he wonders why this happened to him. But only sometimes.
“There’s much worse things that happen to people,” he said.

Contact Colleen M. Farrell at (585) 394-0770 Ext. 265 or at